Travel is Medicine.

By Gregory Zeigler

Mount Rainer from Longbranch, WA on the Key Peninsula.

“I have learned this for certain: if discontent is your disease, travel is medicine. It resensitizes. It opens you up to see outside the patterns you follow. Because new places require new learning. It forces your childlike self back into action … travel has a way of shaking the brain awake. When I’m in a new place, I don’t know what’s next even if I’ve read all the guidebooks and followed the instructions of my friends. I can’t know a smell until I’ve smelled it. I don’t know the feeling of a New York street until I’ve walked it. I can’t feel the hot exhaust of the bus by reading about it. The observation is wide. Healing is mixed in.”

To Shake the Sleeping Self by Jedidiah Jenkins which chronicles Jenkins’s 14,000 mile bike trip from Oregon to Patagonia.

Serenity on the lake.

For several months during my recovery from a fall last April resulting in a severe injury—as well as an infection that rendered my other leg pretty useless—I experienced what my wife, Dimmie and I began referring to as, “rehab on wheels.”

In late July after getting the green light to switch my physical therapy to tele-health, we hauled “Winnie,” our Airstream trailer named for my mother who loved to camp, to Boulder, Colorado. We visited family briefly then dropped the trailer (which we had been living in since late May) and drove to Wilmington, Vermont, via Canada with a short stay at an inn on Lake Michigan.

Our favorite cafe in St. Albans, VT.

Following our time in the verdant Southern Vermont mountains, we spent a week in upstate New York by the broad implacable Hudson River and then headed back to Colorado to pick up our trailer.

From there we camped our way through the mountains and past the lakes of Montana and Idaho to Western Washington for a family reunion on the Key Peninsula near Gig Harbor. My brother, and his wife, stuffed us with clams and oysters harvested fifty feet from their backdoor where they keep their pontoon boat on Adams Bay, the tidal cove on the south end of Filucy Bay.

Our next leg in late September took us and the “Winnie” back across Washington—including waking up in Prosser in the middle of a balloon festival—and down Eastern Oregon, and Central Utah to Sedona, Arizona where we spent the month of October camped near Oak Creek.

Waking up to a pleasant surprise in Prosser, Washington.

In early November, Dimmie and I and two good friends hauling their own Airstream headed to Borrego Springs, California. Borrego Springs is about an hour south of Palm Springs and sits at the heart of Anza-Borrego State Park, the largest state park in the contiguous United States. After a few days enjoying the desert we stored our trailer in Borrego Springs and drove home to Jackson, Wyoming with a short stop in Salt Lake City to visit friends.

While in motion, I checked in with my physical therapist weekly. I graduated from walker to crutch, to cane, to trekking poles. I went from knee brace on 24-7, to brace on occasionally, to no brace. My walking improved from barely being able to hobble to the bathroom to hiking 1.5 miles. The wound from the infection on my left foot progressed from pretty damn awful to totally healed.

And all this detail (which is waaay too much about ME) is simply to say, I’m certain that our travel, and the beautiful places we visited, although being impaired I often had to enjoy them in new and different ways, helped me to heal. Movement is medicine.

Quartzite, Arizona—caravan stopover during trip to Borrego Springs.

In fact, I did a little tour around the internet under the search subject of “medicinal benefits of travel” and found five scientifically proven health outcomes: decreased risk of heart disease, stress relief, increased physical activity, increased creativity and greater happiness. And I can add anecdotally, based on a survey of one, improved healing.

Katie Ives writing in the previous Free Range Writers post urged us all to slow down. After reading “Go Slow, Avoid Lakes and Learn to Hide” something clicked. I’ve roamed the wilds most of my adult life even doing a stint as a mountaineering instructor. In October, when we were camping in Sedona a friend led us to his favorite spot up Oak Creek Canyon. I tottered on my trekking poles roughly fifty yards from the car down a rock strewn decline slightly wider than a trail. At the bottom was a small beach. We were alone and sat in silence by the noisy stream on blue/grey boulders bathed in slanting autumnal sun.

As I reflect back on that minimalist wild moment, it was as important to me as anything I have ever done in nature. Katie’s piece helped me understand that is because the “hitch-in-my get-along” forced me to go short and go slow. And for movement in nature to heal us, we occasionally have to stop, look and listen.

Dimmie in a slow moment on Oak Creek, Sedona, AZ.

As heart disease began to take its toll near the end of John Steinbeck’s life and friends suggested he slow down and do less, he chose instead to drive, mostly solo, eleven thousand miles around the United States. He justified his decision in a letter written to his wife, Elaine, on October 10, 1960, from Mauston, Wisconsin, “I’m still a man damn it. This may seem silly but to me it isn’t.”

Travels With Max: In Search of Steinbeck’s America Fifty Years Later. Gregory Zeigler.

Sailing on Filucy Bay near Longbranch, WA with Mount Rainier in the background. Photo courtesy, David Zeigler.

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